All posts by Stephen Parsons

The Four C’s

We were delighted to be part of the first ever Surfside Studio Tour this past weekend – an event highlighting the artists and artisans of Highway 207 from Lawrencetown to Chezzetcook along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. With the prospect of a new studio event we decided to innovate on our approach to this year’s tour. Reflecting on our values led to our choice this year to focus on four C’s – customization, collections, collaboration, and classes. The results have been very positive.

Customization: Art, for the sake of art, has its place and we love to be innovative and to use various media to express our creative energies on a unique artistic project. But we sometimes, necessarily, forsake our love for true art in favour of production volumes to sustain the ongoing costs and effort of being an artist – and preferably not a starving one.

OK – so if I make an interesting doodad that a hundred people would like to have, then maybe I should make a hundred of them and sell to those who wish to have it. Moreover, I guess there is nothing wrong with a customer coming in and picking up one of a dozen similar turned pens or identical cutting boards if they really like them. What we were trying to get folks to consider this week is the notion of intentionality and personalization in buying items for themselves and others. We are always happy to have the challenge of a client saying “Well my friend, Jane, is such a fanatic about xxx – can you put something together for her?” and then working with that client to come up with the perfect item that may be a one-of-a-kind product specially made for that recipient. In many ways it just feels right in terms of our philosophy of sustainability, to make things that are purposefully made to support the interests or needs of a person rather than trying to convince them why they need this knick-knack that probably isn’t all that relevant.

Collections: Our ability to create mixed media and diverse items allows us to deliver a multi-faceted gift or multi-use package of items that serve a similar purpose or can celebrate a special event.  A visitor to our open studio event has friends about to have their first baby. Seeking to find a great gift for their friend we suggested things like a custom baby quilt, a monogrammed baby bib, a hand-turned rattle, and a custom wooden mobile with various unique and colorful natural woods.

The mix of media skills we offer creates a one-stop shopping experience for that person and we anticipate her return to put together a package of gift items in a single purchase. Once again, we feel that this speaks to efficiency and sustainability and it feels good to present this idea as both an economical and environmentally responsible option.

Collaboration: ChezCraft, Gary Dumas, Brad Holley

Collaboration: We have many friends and colleagues with similar skills (and their own unique styles) in fabric and wood, but also others who work in different aspects of art & craft such as potters, jewellers, blacksmiths/ goldsmiths, photographers, stone carvers, to name a few.

This year we were able to match some of our own products with the work of Gary Dumas and Brad Holley in a special Asian-inspired collaboration. While our colleagues got additional exposure to a market they would not otherwise have been able to  access, we were able to present the talents of two exceptional artisans to extend our  collection and build our reputation for delivering high quality artisan creations.

Classes: The production of art and craft items is our primary line of business right now. But on its own it will not pay the bills of even a moderate shop like ours. Diversification of products and services is critical to our long-term survival. Although I feel the artisan and woodworker when I put on my apron, you just cannot take the educator out of someone who has been a teacher for any length of time, as Mary Elizabeth and I both have. This year we will leverage our educational background to offer one-on-one and small group training in the skills we have come to master. We are also hoping to launch a new YouTube channel with some short teaching pieces for specific projects and techniques. Based on our own custom patterns and plans, we think we can monetize the digital assets while offering some online instruction for free.

These four C’s really speak to a fifth one which is a favorite of ours – commissions. This is valuable as a revenue generation approach, but more importantly speaks to both our philosophy of sustainability, as well as our desire to get to know our clients more intimately – to develop deep relationships with Customers who are the most important “C” of all.

Tech Talk: Building Tradition with a Spokeshave

In April, Mary Elizabeth addressed traditional technology in one of our Tech Talk blog posts. Her post focused on hand planes, one of Mary Elizabeth’s (and my) favorite tools. The typical woodworker has at least four or five unique purpose planes (flattening, smoothing, shaping, profiling, etc.) of varying sizes – some so distinct from another that it is hard to reckon them to be in the same class of tools.

The spokeshave is ideal to shape this broadsword.

I was making a pair of replica broadswords for my son and grandson this week and – after preliminary cutting and shaping – had to refine the angles and surfaces of the swords’ blades. The right tool for this, in my mind is the lowly spokeshave and so I reached for one of mine to help me with this task. Evolving from primitive shaping tools like the draw knife and scraper, and considered to be a form of hand plane, the spokeshave has been around for eons in one form or another. Like all hand planes, a spokeshave may have a cap iron and a frog, is set up against the work with a sole , and slices off fine shavings using a fixed position blade that goes through the body. For me, that’s about where the similarities end.

Scrapers, spokeshaves, and hand planes.

I find that the spokeshave is much more versatile wherever practical, and, moreover, more tactile than typical flat-sole hand planes. This is in part because the motion is a pulling one using a set of handles at the side of the body (of course, there are many other planes that use a pulling motion). The sole may be flat, convex or concave depending on its function but, in either case, it takes practice to get the shave to address the surface for optimum effect. It also takes (and gives) a feel for the wood and the grain that is very special. When you have addressed the grain and surface well, long thin shavings feed out from the mouth of the unit with consistent dimensions, and the wood surface takes on a beautiful smoothness that is often ready for finish without any additional sanding or other surface preparation. The feel of that spokeshave slicing through the wood (as felt through those winged handles) is like no other tool I know.

Bill Howe’s presentation to the Atlantic Woodworkers’ Association in April inspired me to think about and use the spokeshave more and so I find I am increasingly going to it in projects of this nature – not only because it is an effective tool, but also because the feel of working with a spokeshave is extremely gratifying.  For me there is also a sense that I am working with an ages-old technology/ tool using traditional techniques – and that, in itself, is certainly appealing.

Replica broadsword.

In the current project, this sense of building and preserving tradition is even more enhanced since what I am making is a traditional weapon that dates back to the 6th century and which endured for centuries.  The broadsword was used in battle by medieval knights and was considered one of the knight’s most prized assets. For training and tournaments, rebated (blunted) and wooden swords were used to limit injury and so there must have been a time when wooden swords like this were being made to closely replicate the look and feel of their iron counterparts. I can imagine some 11th century woodsmith or swordsmith sitting down to a similar task with a spokeshave or draw knife to carve those same sword facets for a Lancelot or a Galahad.

Anon, with spokeshave at hand, I must away to this labor of love.

The Art of Learning, Part II

This post is written by Stephen Parsons.

In my last post, I described my learning style and I promised to blog my progress as I explore a new technique through a new artistic production. The idea is to reflect on my learning process to see how it evolves and how it impacts development of my skills as an artisan.

The artistic vision, you might recall, is of a manta ray swimming majestically – maybe along a reef or sandy seabed. But the image is more impressionistic than realistic, Continue reading The Art of Learning, Part II

Random Thoughts: The Satisfied Customer

 

This post was written by Stephen Parsons.

Why do we do it? Why do art and craft entrepreneurs put their products and reputation out there in the marketplace? Business objectives are different for each business owner, I guess, but some  would seem more important than others. But how important is profit as an objective compared to other – perhaps more altruistic – objectives?

Piper – apparent satisfied customer

While profit and the need to express one’s artistic creativity and passion are goals we might think at the top of the list, Continue reading Random Thoughts: The Satisfied Customer

Tech Tuesday: Selling Art & Crafts Online

Today’s post is written by Stephen Parsons.

Gartner Hype Cycle of Technology Adoption

As a web application developer around the start of the 21st century, I recall the beginning of the e-commerce era as being one of extremely complex and technical development. I developed and taught e-commerce/ e-marketing programs at Holland College and Nova Scotia Community College from about 1998 through 2003 when the depth of technical knowledge that both developers and business owners needed to implement e-commerce was substantial, often prohibitively so for small craft businesses like ours. Continue reading Tech Tuesday: Selling Art & Crafts Online

Tech Tuesday: The Laser

Today’s post is written by Stephen Parsons

In an earlier post we mentioned that we had bought a laser engraver from Gearbest – our first – to supplement some of the work in our shop, notably things like small engraving tasks and marking cuts for the band saw and scroll saw. Now that we have it together, I thought it might be a good time to bring you up to speed on our success (and challenges) to date. Continue reading Tech Tuesday: The Laser

Renaissance Man or ADD?

Today’s post is written by Stephen Parsons.

Leonardo DaVinci – the Maestro

I have long been fascinated by the life and work of Leonardo Davinci. So, when my wife and I traveled to Italy in 2015, we sought out opportunities to explore historic sites that were connected to  the maestro. This renaissance painter, sculptor, mathematician, physician, builder, inventor and philosopher (among other talents) is an inspiration to me. My own Portfolio speaks to my curiosita and interest in numerous fields inspired, in part, by Davinci and other renaissance men. But recently, I came to wonder if I (and the maestro, for that matter) are actually renaissance men, or simply suffering attention deficit? Continue reading Renaissance Man or ADD?